There are short story writers and then there is William Trevor. A simple yet devastating truth. Reading his story ‘Friendship’ from his 1996 collection ‘After Rain’ just now, I just shook my head at the sheer knowingness and acuity of a writer who can move a story from an opening prank committed by two children against their father involving cement and a golf bag, to the ending of a life long friendship because one woman knew too much about the other, resulting in the satiation of an inflexible husband’s pride through sacrifice.
Trevor’s writing wears its recognitions modestly. It is not ‘weighty’ in terms of tonality and compression and yet seems to say all there can be to say on a subject, so that the story has to mean finally what is means. Once known, once filtered out into the world through language, experience has to be experienced within the shapes by which it is birthed and then governed. Having said this, Trevor’s story does not render ‘life’ as some non-optional, ill fated strait jacket, yet the enclosure of Trevor’s words vividly delineates the parameters by which we greet, acknowledge and even silently hate each other. How perfectly Trevor captures the subtle, gladiatorial combat between a wife, a husband and a best friend here:
‘Margy’s going to make us her paella,’ Francesca said, and Margy knew that when Philip turned away it was to hide a sigh. He didn’t like her paella.He didn’t like the herb salad she put together to go with it. He had never said so, being too polite for that, but Margy knew.’
‘Oh, good,’ Philip said.
Margy’s point of view privileges her insight into the unspoken tensions between this small group of three. However her innate fairness also preserves the autonomy of both Francesca and Philip. We may all recognise the placatory bridging ‘gift’ of Francesca’s justification of Margy’s presence through the promise of the paella. She is a wife who has become accustomed to shaping strategies to preserve the status quo, yet we also sense her vulnerability and the strong possibility that Philip is not the man she should have married, nor the man she will ever love enough to feel anything other than temperate care.
The quiet, possiibly complacent irony of the word ‘good’ reminds me of an alligator in waiting! The mask of polite detachment adopted by Philip seems cold enough for secret cruelty and the intelligence of Trevor, prevents this being a sexually charged combat for Francesca’s love, fought over ( like James’ Wings of the Dove) by Philip and Margy. This is more ordinary, more carefully and unexplosively entrenched, yet still, by the end of the story, nonetheless isolating and upsetting, for the coldness of Philip contaminates everything. The simple repetition of the pronoun ‘he’ subtly emphasises the phallic precision of Philip and his anti-playful view of the world, which confines his wife to a life of feminine apology, opposes Margy’s bohemian offering of ‘her paella’ and outrages his sons into imaginative and practical anarchy!
How to analyse a text quickly!
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